Council moves to rein in aggressive tow truck drivers

Complaints of `spotters,' high impoundment fees prompt legislation

October 05, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

Responding to complaints that some area tow truck drivers are using aggressive tactics to snatch up illegally parked cars, Anne Arundel County officials passed legislation yesterday giving more protection to car owners.

The new law, approved on a 6-0 vote of the County Council last night, requires businesses to post detailed signs explaining restrictions at their parking lots and compels towing companies to notify police within one hour if they remove a car without the owner's consent.

The law, which takes effect in 45 days, also forbids the use of "spotters," who earn commissions by scouting for illegally parked cars and notifying towing outfits, even if no nearby business has complained about the vehicles.

Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Glen Burnie Democrat, said he has received several angry calls about aggressive towing and that the practice has become routine in the northern part of the county.

He said the victims are often sports fans heading by light rail to Baltimore stadiums. They rely on private, strip-mall parking lots because park-and-ride lots are filled. When the fans return from the event, their cars are gone and they face $190 fees to recover them.

Anne Arundel Police Sgt. George Halpin said that "some of these companies had spotters that called tow trucks as soon as people got on the light rail."

"We were getting frantic calls from people who thought their cars had been stolen," Halpin told the council at a recent public hearing on the measure. "At that point, I realized something had to be done."

Support for the bill came not only from police circles, but also from local tow truck companies that are tired of being the target of angry car owners.

"People call trying to find their cars," said Glenn Rennie, who owns a Glen Burnie towing company that does not tow from private lots. "I get called a lot of nasty names. People think anyone who does this kind of work is a crook."

Marc Bowen, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Towers Association, said the 18 members of his group support the tougher law. Bowen said Baltimore companies are largely responsible for the problem and that they charge substantially more than local companies to release impounded cars.

"This is a real problem," Bowen said. "We all agreed we needed to come down here and show our support."

Councilman Cliff R. Roop, a Severna Park Republican, abstained from the vote because he is in the towing business.

Pub Date: 10/05/99

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